07/14/2004 11:00PM

He Flies strong off his last two

Email

NEW YORK - Starting in the next couple of weeks, stakes racing will be dominated by what transpires at the nation's two most important summer resort tracks, Saratoga and Del Mar. So before that happens, it's nice that some tracks that don't have the status of a Saratoga or Del Mar can command the stakes spotlight on Saturday.

This is the biggest weekend of the year at Delaware Park, where on Saturday, the $500,000 Delaware Oaks is not only the richest race in the nation, but it also tops a card that includes the $150,000 Robert G. Dick Memorial Handicap, and the $100,000 R. R. M. Carpenter Jr. Memorial Handicap. On Sunday, the $750,000 Delaware Handicap is not only the richest race on the continent, it also heads a program that includes the $250,000 Leonard Richards Stakes.

Canterbury Park will again host the Claiming Crown on Saturday, a six-race, $550,000 series that puts horses who have raced for a claiming price of $25,000 or less in the last year on center stage. The richest Claiming Crown event is the $150,000 Jewel.

Finger Lakes will stage the $150,000 New York Derby, the second leg of the OTBs' Big Apple Triple. Sadly, there cannot be a sweep this year. Multiplication, winner of the first leg of the series, the Mike Lee at Belmont Park, recently had a fatal heart attack.

Of course, there will be stakes Saturday at the major racing centers. The feature at Belmont is the $150,000 Bowling Green Handicap, while the $100,000 Hollywood Juvenile Stakes at Hollywood Park tops the card.

Here are my three spotlight stakes, in order of preference:

Claiming Crown Emerald Stakes

He Flies is a strong play here off two solid performances recently at Churchill Downs.

Last month, He Flies returned from a five-month absence and prevailed in a starter allowance race. He did so despite lacking racing room late on the far turn and again in upper stretch, and even though the eventual runner-up had all the momentum in the stretch. As a result, He Flies was a strong favorite in a similar spot last time out. He couldn't catch an opponent who got loose early and absolutely walked on the lead (first quarter in 25.04 seconds, the half in 49.06), but He Flies ran very well to be easily second. With speedsters Stage Player and Tio Lupe in this spot, He Flies projects to sit a sweet trip stalking an honest pace.

Delaware Oaks

Although she sports 4 victories from 5 career starts and has the high-profile team of Jerry Bailey and Bob Baffert behind her, Yearly Report is the kind of low-priced favorite I like to play against. That is because she struggled to beat a moderate group in slow time last time out in the Black-Eyed Susan, a race that doesn't look any better in retrospect. None of the fillies who finished behind Yearly Report has come back to run particularly well on dirt.

I'm going back to Hopelessly Devoted, who dominated the Susan's Girl Breeders' Cup Stakes last time out at this distance over this track. The Susan's Girl was Hopelessly Devoted's third easy win from her last four starts, and the 92 Beyer Speed Figure she earned is as good as, if not better than, what any of her opponents have been getting at a distance recently.

New York Derby

Work With Me and Swinging Ghost, a close second and third in the Mike Lee, may simply be better than these. Both, however, were perfectly set up by a blistering pace, and both will be going two turns for the first time here. So I'm going for the upset and picking Coined for Success.

Coined for Success couldn't keep pace early in the Lee and wound up a distant ninth. But he can control the pace this time, just like he did when he won an off-the-turf stakes at Delaware two starts back at this distance. Coined for Success has also settled into a pattern of winning every other start, so he should be "on" Saturday.